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HEAVY HEARTS: Exploring The Lyrical Depths of Heartbreak in Metal Songs

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John McCauley

Hands up who actually listens to and digests song lyrics? I mean, who REALLY digs deep and listens?

One of the beautiful things about music is its ability to connect with different people in different ways. It soothes, it comforts, it angers, and it saddens – often all within the one song and even more often to varying degrees of acceptance across all those who listen.

It breathes a life of its own, swept away or glossed over depending on your mood or what is happening in your life at that particular moment.

But how deep do or can metal songs get? How many different ways can they be interpreted or used to guide mood, feel and emotion?

Starting today, HEAVY is pleased to introduce a new monthly segment, Heavy Hearts: Exploring the Lyrical Depths of Heartbreak in Metal Songs, with John McCauley going into greater depth surrounding the lyrical components of metal, dissecting the inherent themes of breakup, mental health, loss and more that combine to touch each and every one off us in different ways.

Music is not, and never will be, an exact science, but each month John will offer his opinions and answers after analyzing some of the most popular metal songs in history and others you may discover for the first time. You may agree, you may disagree, but one thing we can all agree on is the importance of metal and music in life.

Shredding the Pain – Heavy Hearts: Exploring the Lyrical Depths of Heartbreak in Metal Songs

Whether it’s a first breakup, the loss of a friendship or the loss of your first love, everyone has gone through a breakup in their lifetime. Due to its commonality amongst people, it’s a very popular lyrical topic in music. It’s a theme that breaks barriers and genres, from rap, to pop, to country, rock and roll and even metal, heartbreak is everywhere. Specifically, I will be diving into metal songs that are based around losing someone close to you and the heavy pain it brings. Here is a list of my top ten heavy songs that deal with heartbreak.

She’s Gone Black Sabbath, 1976

Although it’s more of a ballad from metal legends Black Sabbath, Ozzy’s voice and the simple guitar chords give a haunting vibe to Ozzy Osbourne’s tale of loss. The lyrics centre around the love of his life leaving him. He sounds lost, hopeless, and confused due to his former lover forsaking him and shares what is an all too common feeling with the final lyric “my life means nothing now you’ve gone.” After such a hard love ends without warning, it invariably seems like you’ve put so much into a person that is now gone, making it like your life is now gone with her.

The Place I Feel Safest Currents, 2017

The next song swiftly moves on from sadness to anger. It can be heard in not only the lyrics but the harsh vocals of Brian Wille. The melody of his voice carries a pain that you can hear the loss and heartache in. During the bridge the drums hit hard, with vocals being the focus. “I want it back, I miss the bond of our skin, I miss the touch of your hand,” Wille yells. As the instruments begin to crescendo in sound and tempo, he talks about being left behind, abandoned by his former love. What a wonderful and sad way to describe a former love as “The Place I Feel Safest”? A former partner can easily be the sense of security for many, but Wille’s words share that he’s now left abandoned by who was someone once held so high.

The Love You WantSleep Token, 2021

Pleading, “I’m still full of the love you want” is a message to a lover that seems to have fallen out of love. The confusion sets in as to how someone could just lose feelings, especially when you know you’re still full of reasons to be loved. The first two songs talk about sadness and then anger, while this is more of a barter. It is almost as if the lyrics are a letter pleading for a love to come back; that the writer still could be the one. Sleep Token doesn’t just have catchy and enticing lyrics, but the gradual build of emotion in the instruments starts at a low, until the end chorus where the drums seem to be let loose with fillers, and the guitar hits chords that fit so well. The lyrics are rather repetitive but feel fresh each time they’re played due to the instruments getting more dynamic as the song goes on.

Dial ToneCatch Your Breath, 2022

If Sleep Token wasn’t catchy enough, this single from hard rock band Catch Your Breath will be. With an emotional chorus, through sound and lyrics, and high notes where you can hear the guttural pain in vocalist Josh’s voice, this track hits hard. Haunting lyrics search for closure and not being able to understand or even get a reason for abandonment, begging a former lover to “give me a reason, I need a reason.” Heartbreak is tough enough as it is, but not receiving closure can eat up anyone’s heart and mind post-breakup.

Sinematic Motionless in White, 2012

Haunting, creepy, and desperate, this song is when you’re at a point where all you can do is miss that one person and just beg them for one more touch. It’s hard to keep someone who was previously so close in your life out of it. Chris Motionless talks about how this person was the one, who would never cause pain, yet he is unjustly in this position. Later, the harsh vocals come in, representing the anger that stems from abandonment. The raw vocals shine through, making the listener also feel desperate for that love once again. Even if it is temporary, who wouldn’t want to be able to touch a past lover one more time, even if it will destroy all the work of keeping them out and moving on from them.

Enough, Enough NowBad Omens, 2016

Similar to the previous song, it has slow, haunting instruments, mixed with harsh vocals filled with pain. Noah Sebastian does a great job of blending spoken words with harsh vocals, creating emotion that mixes so well with lyrics. Dealing with a breakup that seems like it shouldn’t have happened or was due to timing is never easy. Sebastian talks about trying to let go, he can’t escape being without this lover and needs to be set free. I picked this Bad Omens track over the popular, Just Pretend because I believe it is rawer and more composed of the emotion of still being haunted by a former lover.

What I Should Have Learned in Study Hall Ice Nine Kills, 2007

A little on the softer side, this acoustic type of song talks about a long-distance relationship. Spencer Charnas sings about being left behind due to a former lover searching for her own life and leaving behind him for Colorado. She is trying to grow, but Charnas is left behind grieving, wishing she would come back. There are so many different reasons for breakups, but when one leaves you to grow without you, it just stings. That’s heavy enough of a reason to make anyone’s heart break. Furthermore, the pessimistic view of Charnas exclaims that they were always doomed, and they wouldn’t ever be together. It’s hard to remain positive after a heartbreak, and this song is a living example. Yet he still gives her praise, still in love even when she’s 2000 miles away.

Left BehindThe Plot in You, 2023

Being left behind and trying to leave behind a former lover are heavy topics and spoken about so well in this new single. For me, the heaviest lyrics are “I still keep your secrets, know your worst mistakes.” To be that close with someone, and you know the worst things about them but still loving them is hard. Especially when you were abandoned, keeping those close to your heart and not exposing those flaws from your ex-lover isn’t easy. However, this song brings a sense of positivity with the idea of leaving this love behind.

This has been true with most of these songs, that the harsh vocals shine through with pain and help boost the lyrics’ meaning so well. The vocalist, Landon Tewers, has such a great, emotional harsh and high vocals in this song that shows why metal breakup songs can be the most painful throughout any genre. No other genre has these types of vocals that help show emotion like harsh vocals in metal and heavy music.

Everything EndsSlipknot, 2001

Anger. Something Slipknot knows a lot about, and something anyone who went through a breakup knows about. Corey Taylor screams his anger towards a former lover, blaming them for making him sick. Saying they are the reason that this is “the end of everything.” Many questions surface in this song, questioning abandonment and anger. This is a great song when you want to blame your ex. If you’ve felt you were wronged, and are in a terrible situation now due to someone else, this song hits hard and can help by placing blame and being angry.

ihateit Underoath, 2018

“You’re the only thing that gets me high, and I hate it.” Trying to find love in someone else just to find out that they can’t make you happy or feel as good as your former love? No matter what you try moving on, they were the only person that could make you feel that “high”? Dallas Taylor’s lyrics will hit hard then. This song builds until he lets his anger rip through his harsh vocals, showing the anger of his futile attempts to move on. When moving on seems impossible, put on this song and you at least won’t feel alone in your failed attempts.

Sadness, anger, confusion, hopelessness, whatever the emotion may be, metal breakup songs have it. The lyrics are usually darker and focus more on abandonment, and it ties so well with harsh vocals making that emotion heard. These are songs you can cry to, headbang to and hopefully give you an emotional release like no other genre can do like metal does.

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